- Review Price: £949.99
As pretty much the instigator of this whole LCD TV phenomenon now sweeping the UK, Sharp has taken rather longer than expected to take its place at the full HD LCD table. But thankfully the brand has finally got its finger out and launched a whole range of full HD models, the XD1Es, ranging in size from 37in up to a whopping 52in.
For our money the screen size arguably offering the best combination of ‘AV grunt’ and commercial appeal is the 42in 42XD1E, so it’s that one we’re looking at today. Though you never know; our lust for ever-bigger flat TV action might lead us to have a peak at the 52in model at some point, too…
Sharp has entirely revamped its aesthetics for the new XD1E range. Out goes the old ‘titanium’ metallic look, in comes an actually slightly more ‘common’ gloss black with silver trim effect. Mind you, Sharp’s use of subtle curves and an attractive ‘wave’ design element along the bottom edge do make the 42XD1E stand out from the crowd at least a little.
Rather surprisingly for a full HD TV, the 42XD1E appears at first glance not to have fully catered for the various HD sources out there, since there’s no component video input. Further investigation reveals, though, that you can get an HD component signal in to the TV via the set’s D-Sub PC port and a provided adaptor cable. Which is fine, except that it means you can’t have component and computer sources connected simultaneously. Hmm.
Elsewhere the set sports two HDMI sockets, able to take 1080p/50Hz inputs – though apparently not the ultra-pure ‘as mastered’ 1080p/24fps format starting to appear as an option from one or two high-end Blu-ray decks. Plus there’s a CAM slot revealing the presence of a built-in digital TV tuner, a couple of Scarts, an RS-232 jack, and the usual composite and S-Video options for anyone daft/desperate enough to use them.
As you’d expect of a TV with a 1,920 x 1,080 native resolution, the 42XD1E carries a ‘1:1’ option for showing the UK’s dominant 1080-line HD source pictures in their ‘native’ state, pixel for pixel, with no overscan processing to mess the HD picture quality up. The only moan we’ve got about this feature on the 42XD1E is that for some reason Sharp has hidden it away; to find it you have to enter a rather obscure sub-menu and look for the equally obscure name of ‘Underscan’. Because of this, we can fully envisage a situation where many punters will buy the 42XD1E and never actually get the best HD performance because they never switch it to its pixel-for-pixel mode.
Its full HD resolution isn’t the only impressive spec boasted by the 42XD1E. Its 6000:1 contrast ratio is also strikingly high for an LCD TV of this size, and its claimed response time is just 6ms, raising hopes that we won’t have to suffer too much in the way of LCD motion blur.
Lifting these hopes even higher is the 42XD1E’s use of Sharp’s new ‘truD’ anti-judder processing, which also claims to improve sharpness and contrast at the same time that it’s making motion look more natural.
We have to chastise Sharp before going any further, though, for the 42XD1E’s onscreen menu system, which is neither very well presented nor intuitive to navigate. Still, once you’ve clapped eyes on the TV’s generally outstanding pictures, you’ll probably find the operational quirks suddenly become far less of an issue.
There’s no doubt, for instance, that the 42XD1E visibly delivers the benefits of its full HD pixel count, even given the confines of its relatively small (in full HD terms) 42in screen. The most obvious example of this can be seen in the sharpness with which the set reproduces all the sumptuous HD detailing in the Casino Royale Blu-ray disc, or the fabulously detailed backdrops to Gears of War on the Xbox 360.
But it’s also evident, albeit more subtly, in the smoothness of colour blends and skin tones, as the extra pixel density of the full HD array makes for less obvious colour ‘jumps’. And finally the full HD difference makes its presence felt in the simple lack of noise in an HD picture, especially if you’re doing the sensible thing and using the ‘Underscan’ 1:1 mode.
So far so good – and we haven’t even mentioned the 42XD1E’s emphatically dazzling colours yet. These add real lustre and solidity to the cars of Forza 2, or the rich computer-generated backdrops on show throughout Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith on Sky HD. Crucially, though, the colour vibrancy on show is not achieved at the expense of a winningly natural colour tone, which helps skin tones avoid the rather sickly pallor seen on lesser flat TVs.
Colours as rich as those of this Sharp are generally only possible where there’s a decent black level response, and that’s certainly the case with the 42XD1E. The sequence of the Black Pearl’s assault on the fort in the Blu-ray of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie shows pleasingly little greyness over the night skies, while also enjoying a good sense of scale thanks to the solid amount of shadow detailing subtlety the TV reveals in dark areas.
The 42XD1E does have its foibles, though. First, you have to be VERY careful setting it up if you want it to look its best; we’d suggest getting the DVD Essentials disc to help you calibrate things correctly.
Also, the picture’s aggressive quality can slightly exaggerate noise in standard definition sources. Next, there’s noticeable loss of resolution over moving objects – especially with standard definition – when compared to the latest ‘100Hz’ TVs now appearing. And finally the machinations of the automatic backlight adjustment system -which reduces light output during dark scenes – are occasionally a touch too obvious, causing a noticeable ‘step’ in overall brightness.
The main thing about the 42XD1E, though, is that its imperfections aren’t really that serious overall – and for the most part they’re also very common across the LCD world as a whole. The 42XD1E’s many strengths, however, are certainly not common. So it’s these that really define its relative capabilities, and leave us with no option but to give it a resounding recommendation.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 8